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Chief negotiator reveals details of WTO offer

The United States has taken the most interest in The Bahamas’ goods and services offer to the World Trade Organization (WTO), Bahamas’ chief WTO negotiator Zhivargo Laing said Wednesday, adding that seven WTO member countries have asked The Bahamas to set lower tariff rates on certain products, one of them being poultry.

Laing, who spoke at a press conference where he released this country’s goods and services offering, said The Bahamas’ offer was an improvement, compared to previous offers this country has made to the WTO.

The goods offer released by the government lays out how much customs duties would be reduced, should The Bahamas join the WTO, while the services offer outlines what aspects of each service industry would be open or closed to trading countries.

Some parts of the services sector have been reserved for Bahamians.

The government still has to carry out sector-wide consultations before it goes back to the WTO to submit this country’s revised offer.

Meantime, there remains widespread public concern about the problems that could arise out of The Bahamas’ accession to the WTO.

Laing explained that the biggest concern is the impact on government revenue due to the reduction in customs duties. Laing said the government can find ways to make up such a revenue shortfall, which could be about $40 million.

He said a benefit of joining the global trade group could be sustained economic growth.

“There is nothing more important to the prosperity of this country than the growth of this economy,” he said.

“It is in that growth that we get job creation, business opportunities, income growth, government revenue and the like.

“Anything that we do to encourage growth is something that we ought to seek to do. The review of the literature and the observation of the global economy over the last decades since the WTO’s establishment, suggests that because of the transparencies created, because of the modernizing of your business legislation and environment, there tends to be up to two percent growth in an economy of an acceding country, for up to five years. And even if the economy slows after that five years, the growth that took place in that economy doesn’t shrink thereafter, so we get the benefit of growth.”

According to Laing, The Bahamas will have to decrease its customs duties on average from 30 percent to 15 percent. This, he said, is an added benefit to customers and business people.

He added that with WTO accession comes the strengthening of intellectual property laws, the strengthening of transparency and the strengthening of procurement procedures.

“These things accrue to the benefit of the country,” he said.

Laing said The Bahamas’ offer closely resembles the country’s National Investment Policy.

“It reflects the sensitivities expressed in the consultations with various sectors, such that certain sensitive sectors were taken off the table altogether. In fact, all areas that are reserved for Bahamians under the National Investment Policy have been omitted from the services offer, with the exception of restaurant services – limited to specialty, gourmet or ethnic restaurants, or restaurants operating in a hotel, resort or tourist attraction – and certain construction services for which international expertise is required. These were not excluded from the offer, as they tend to be of significant importance in attracting foreign direct investment, or reflect expertise in limited supply at home, such as physiotherapy, and in some instances joint venture requirements were included for areas like specialized medical services, franchising, environmental services and hospital services.”

The offer document reveals that of the 106 sectors committed in the services offer, all except legal services, landscape architecture services, market research services, multi-modal courier services, franchising, educational services, hospital services and maintenance and repair of vessels “are reflective of the status quo”.

Chester Robards

Senior Business Reporter at The Nassau Guardian
Chester Robards rejoined The Nassau Guardian in November 2017 as a senior business reporter. He has covered myriad topics and events for The Nassau Guardian.
Education: Florida International University, BS in Journalism
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